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The Middy ~ A Photo Essay
 

 

The wearing of sailor suits by anyone besides an actual sailor probably originated with young Prince Edward in the mid 19th century. He later had his own children dressed in miniature sailor uniforms.  A photograph of the children inspired a trend of dressing small boys in sailor suits - a trend that lasted well into the 20th century.  This illustration is from a box of Edwardian Christmas crackers, decorated with boys wearing middies.

Photo courtesy of Vintage Fan Attic

 

Around 1880, women's sport blouses began sporting sailor type collars. This type collar was soon used on bathing suits and gymnasium uniforms as well.  This was not a true middy, as it was designed to be tucked into, buttoned onto, or attached to the skirt or bloomers.  Photo circa 1905.

Sometime around 1910 the sailor blouse was developed into a true middy.  The middy did not "blouse" over the waist; it hung straight from the shoulders to the hips.  1916 Chicago Mail Order ad.

In the mid 1910s, the middy was often loosely belted, in keeping with current fashion.  By 1920, the belt was gone, and was often replaced with a wide band at the hem.

 

An important part of the middy was the fabric used.  The middy was constructed of cotton duck, like a sailor's warm weather middy. 1917 Paul Jones ad.


Both little girls and little boys were dressed in the popular middy.

Group of children in Finland, circa 1920

photo courtesy of Vintage Fan Attic

 

Because of its practically, the middy quickly became standard wear for sports, gym and camp.  1919 ad.  Paul Jones was the brand name of Morris and Company, who claimed to be the originators of the middy.

1910s girls basketball team are wearing uniforms with dark colored middies.  Note the handmade "B" logo.

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1919 "By the Rustic Fence"

In 1920 Camp Keystone (located in nearby Brevard, North Carolina and still in operation) required each camper to have at least eight white middies.

This photo is of a gym class at Mars Hill College, North Carolina, circa 1923.

By 1920 middies were not just for active sports.  They had crossed over into being a fashion item as well.  Dresses with middy tops became popular for spectator sports.  1919 Butterick Pattern Book.

 

The 1922 Montgomery Ward catalog had a full page of middies for young women, in various styles and colors.

Here are two fashion middies from the same company, Hofflin of Norfolk, Virginia.

photo courtesy of Denisebrain

This middy and skirt is identical to the one at left except for the color.

photo courtesy of Dorothea's Closet

photo courtesy of Denisebrain

photo courtesy of Dorothea's Closet

The middy was worn over huge bloomers when used for sport.  The bloomers were commonly made from wool, but increasingly as the 1920s progressed, they too were made from cotton duck. from a 1921 Fashion World catalog

There were quite a few makers of middies, and companies were always coming up with improvements and variations. 

Here is the typical gym set:  white duck middy and blue cotton bloomers.


By 1929, the middy was pretty much back in its old position of being active sportswear.  Whereas in 1922 Montgomery Ward had a full page of middies, in 1929 there was just this one middy offered, and it was in the sports section instead of the clothing.

Even as late as 1931, though, middies were still being worn, as this McCall pattern dated 1931 shows.

Increasingly though, the gymsuit was sleeveless and collarless.  This early 1930s gymsuit still has the V neck and the long straight bodice of the middy.

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The middy has resurfaced from time to time as fashion.  The style became popular in the form of patriotic dresses during WWII.  Ladies Home Journal, 1941.

Here's a late 1950s middy and sailor-inspired blouse.

During the 1970s, authentic sailor middies became very popular as we began to discover vintage.  The very first piece of vintage clothing I bought to wear was a white duck sailor's middy, bought from the Army-Navy surplus store.

The dropped waist middy dress was brought back by Laura Ashley in the 1980s.

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Butterick Pattern Book, Spring, 1922.
 
Fashion World catalog, 1921

Kahn, Laurie Susan,
Sleepaway: The Girls of Summer and the Camps They Love.  New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2003.
 
Ladies Home Journal, June, 1941.
 
Montgomery Ward Catalogs, 1908, 1922, 1929, 1932
 
Selvedge, Issue 18, Bristol Fashion, by Dr. Clare Rose.
 
Warner, Patricia Campbell
When the Girls Came Out to Play. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006.

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